Lying down during the day can lower stress, boost productivity, and help you sleep at night.
When my six-month-old baby has been awake for a while learning, interacting, and exercising, he starts getting fussy. If I put him down for a nap at the right time, he’ll wake up happy and ready for more adventures. If I wait too long, he gets overtired and has a harder time sleeping. This tiny human is just like me.
Adults don’t need quite the amount of sleep babies do, but we need naps too—or at least moments to pause and recover from whatever we’ve been doing. When we don’t pause to rest, it has the same effect as it does on a baby’s nervous system: we get overloaded, overtired, and we don’t sleep as well at night.
It sounds counterintuitive, but for babies as well as adults, sleep begets sleep. Of course, we don’t want to nap for four hours during the day—that confuses our circadian rhythms and makes us think day is night and night is day. But a little rest in the middle of the day can do wonders for our bodies and minds.
Rethinking the To-Do List
I used to hate napping. I always just had so much to do. Of course, I’m still busy, but I’ve noticed that if I do take a moment to rest in the middle of the day, my to-do list feels shorter when I get up. It’s not that I have less to do, it’s that I’m calmer and more efficient.
When we’re stressed, exhausted, and overstimulated, it’s hard to prioritize. Everything feels like a huge deal and it has to be done right NOW. But with a little pause and perspective, it’s a lot easier to organize our thoughts. I am, admittedly, a bit of a “pre-crastinator,” meaning I’ll do too many things too early for them to be effective, causing myself more work and stress in the long run than is necessary. When I let myself slow down, I inevitably discover that there’s less work to do than I thought.
Calm Mind, Happy Body
This revelation, for me, started when I was sick and exhausted, in a semi-constant state of stress. Part of my problem was related to trauma and an overactive nervous system. I decided I would do at least one Restorative yoga posture every day for 40 days. Restorative yoga is designed to help the body enter into the calm, healing parasympathetic nervous system state. It’s easy enough—you do things like put your legs up the wall or lie down with a pillow under your back for 5-20 minutes.
This system worked well for me, and I was finding that there were benefits to slowing down each day. But soon enough, the practice evolved away from all the bolsters and blankets, and I’d just—lie down. In bed if I could, or on the floor, or curl up on the couch, whatever was possible and available. I would just find a place where I could be quiet for a few minutes, set an alarm, and focus on my breathing. If I only had 5 minutes, I’d do that. If I had 20, I’d take the 20.
I also don’t always sleep during this daily pause, so “nap” might be a misnomer. Part of the reason I resist naps is because I find it very hard to sleep during the day, and I used to get frustrated that I was just lying there thinking. But then I realized that lying there thinking has its own benefits. Who cares if I sleep or not? Either way, I’m resting, and the benefits are the same with or without unconsciousness.
When I practice this daily rest, my mood is better. My sleep that night is better. And I end up getting more done. In fact, I think it might be naptime now.
Reclaim rest and connect to calm with this guided meditation.